By MARK MADDEN
The NHL never sees the big picture.
That’s why it will never escape its niche.
The Olympics had a storybook ending. The face of hockey scores in overtime to defeat a determined American team. It was win-win, although it probably doesn’t feel that way to Brooks Orpik.
Two days later, Pittsburgh hosts Buffalo. The face of hockey takes on the goalie he beat for Olympics gold. Sidney Crosby vs. Ryan Miller. It’s the perfect storm, a reenactment on the NHL level. The NHL couldn’t have planned it better, which is how you know the NHL didn’t plan it.
Inexplicably, the game isn’t on national TV. Versus is going with Philadelphia at Tampa Bay.
Still more inexplicably, Miller won’t start in goal for Buffalo. The game won’t even grab the lead on SportsCenter.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman needed to make two things happen: He needed to make Versus get its trucks, cameras, microphones and announcers to Mellon Arena tonight. Then he needed to tell Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff, in no uncertain terms, that Miller was starting in goal.
The whole purpose of NHL players in the Olympics is to gain favorable exposure for hockey, then capitalize after.
Well, a glorious opportunity to capitalize materialized just 48 hours after Crosby scored on Miller, and the NHL ignored it.
Getting the game on Versus should have been a no-brainer. That should have been planned before the Olympics because of Crosby’s presence.
Getting Miller in goal should be a no-brainer, too. What’s one more game? Who cares if he gets shot full of holes because he’s tired? Viewers might enjoy that, especially if Crosby benefits. Who cares if the Sabres drop two points? BIGGER PICTURE. Anyway, who’s to say Miller wouldn’t rise to the occasion and play great? That’s the romance of the matchup.
But we’ll never know because the NHL is too influenced by old-school fools who care far too much about the sanctity of hockey even though they couldn’t spell “sanctity,” much less define it. Ruff would go BALLISTIC if the NHL coerced him to start Miller, and some fossil like NHL Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell would back him up.
Are lineup decisions in MLB, the NFL and the NBA influenced by league administration with an eye toward marketing the sport? I don’t know. But if those sports ever shrink to the minuscule recognition level currently experienced by the NHL, I bet they would be.
The NHL should have waited until Thursday or Friday to resume play. That way, Crosby and Miller could have gone on Letterman and Leno. To repeat, the whole purpose of NHL players in the Olympics is to gain favorable exposure for hockey, then capitalize after. By playing a game the day after the Olympics ended – THE DAY AFTER! – then icing a slate of 12 games two days later, there was no window to capitalize on the Olympics buzz in ways that didn’t involve playing hockey games. And the NHL’s TV track record shows Mr. & Mrs. America don’t care about hockey games.
Here’s the bottom line on the NHL and the Olympics effect: The NHL took time off for the Olympics. The Olympics were great, with the most dramatic ending possible. The face of hockey beat the upstart Americans in OT.
On Monday, Versus showed Detroit at Colorado. On Tuesday, Philadelphia at Tampa Bay. ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz…
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).